What’s Ahead for Meaningful Use Program?

For a brief moment this month, it seemed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had abandoned its Meaningful Use incentive program, based on social media’s interpretation of remarks made by the agency’s Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.

Here is what Slavitt stated at the JP Morgan Annual Health Care Conference on Jan. 11: “Now that we effectively have technology in virtually every place care is provided, we are now in the process of ending Meaningful Use and moving to a new regime culminating with the MACRA implementation. The Meaningful Use program as it has existed, will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.”

After Twitter lit up with tweets like ‘CMS Administrator Announces End of Meaningful Use,’ Slavitt and Karen DeSalvo, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, took to the CMS Blog to clarify what’s ahead for the average practice grappling with EHR Meaningful Use and its incentive programs.

Currently, CMS is in a transition between the Meaningful Use program and the implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) adopted by Congress last year. MACRA considers quality, cost and clinical practice improvement activities as well as meaningful use of certified EHR technology in calculating how Medicare physician payments are determined. CMS hopes to make improvements to the requirements surrounding use of EHR technology to better serve physicians and their patients. Slavitt and Desalvo outlined the principles guiding them toward this new and improved system:

  • Rewarding providers for the outcomes they achieve for their patients through
  • Allowing providers the flexibility to customizehealth IT to their individual practice needs. Technology must be user-centered and support physicians.
  • Leveling the technology playing field to promote innovation by unlocking electronic health information through open APIs – technology tools that underpin many consumer applications.  This way, new apps, analytic tools and plug-ins can be easily connected to so that data can be securely accessed and directed where and when it is needed in order to support patient care.
  • Prioritizing interoperability by implementing federally recognized, national interoperability standards and focusing on real-world uses of technology, like ensuring continuity of care during referrals or finding ways for patients to engage in their own care. CMS will not tolerate business models that prevent or inhibit the data from flowing around the needs of the patient.

The proposed regulations around this use of technology will be unveiled this spring and open for comments. In the meantime, CMS has streamlined the process for granting Meaningful Use hardship exceptions. [See the following story in this issue of the NCMS Bulletin for more on this.]

North Carolina Medical Society Director of Practice Improvement Terri Gonzalez, who has helped dozens of North Carolina practices achieve Meaningful Use incentives since the program began, was initially concerned that if the incentive program were to go away abruptly, some practices might be tempted to stop collecting data that can ultimately benefit patients.

“Really, if you went into the program for the incentives – that was the wrong reason. If you went into it for the right reasons, you’ll continue doing what you’re doing with or without the incentives,” she said.


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